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Volume 29, Number 6
November/December 2013

Performance Assessments for the Common Core

Are students up to the task?


The Common Core will mean fewer “bubble tests” and more performance tasks that require analysis and reasoning.

This year’s seventh-graders in the Danville, Ky., Public Schools face a new set of requirements to graduate from high school. In order to earn a “Danville Diploma,” the class of 2019 and beyond will have to complete a set of experiences, such as internships, and demonstrate a set of competencies, such as the ability to analyze, synthesize, and make inferences from data.

These expectations are aimed at ensuring that all students develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to succeed in the global economy and society, according to the superintendent, Carmen Coleman. The diploma will signify that students are prepared for life after high school, she says. By contrast, the traditional system, driven largely by conventional standardized tests, focused too narrowly on a limited set of knowledge and basic skills and did not prepare students adequately, she says.

“We’ve been in a standardized testing rat race,” Coleman says. “We realized that what we were doing was not producing graduates with the skills [they will need].” “We want kids to think,” she adds. “That wasn’t being done. We wanted kids to be compliant and fill in bubbles.”

In order to shift to the new system, Danville teachers are developing and implementing new forms of assessment to measure students’ performance in the classroom throughout the year that break away from the fill-in-the-bubble model. Rather than ask students to choose one right answer on a multiple-choice test, these performance assessments ask students to perform tasks (such as conducting research or a science experiment), show how they arrived at solutions, and justify their conclusions. The assessments will be scored by teachers using agreed-on rubrics that provide clear statements of what constitutes different levels of mastery.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

L. Darling-Hammond and F. Adamson. Beyond Basic Skills: The Role of Performance Assessment in Achieving 21st Century Standards of Learning. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, 2010.

L. Darling-Hammond and B. Falk. Teacher Learning Through Assessment: How Student-Performance Assessments Can Support Teacher Learning. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, 2013.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers

A. C. Rodde and L. McHugh. Building the Missing Link Between the Common Core and Improved Learning. Boston: Bridgespan Group, 2013.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium